For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:18-21
In several recent postings on this site I have built up considerable steam as I have exposed the premises of Islam that, as I see things, clearly inspire and justify the present bloody campaign being conducted by ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, et al, against the lives of Christians, Jews, “infidels” of all kinds — but most viciously against other Muslims. I have argued that such behaviour is “insane” – appealing to the dictionary sense of demonstrating “a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction” – in short, ruinous to health. And I argue that this is precisely because the story that unfolds in the Qur’an is insane – in the same sense.
In recent conversation, several good friends, people of eminent goodwill, have insisted that I have overstated the culpability of people born to Islam for the sins of the Islamists; they urge me dip further into the findings of anthropology, sociology, and other–ologies and recognize the relativity of morality and accept that those who were raised in other “cultures” cannot be expected to share our own mindset of respect for human life.
The Natural Law Principle in Christian Thought
Christians have been dealing since day one – since long before there were accredited Christian theologians and philosophers — with the challenge of presenting the message of Christ within long-established “cultures” wherein individual and collective minds were apparently closed to the moral premises that are at the heart of Judao-Christian faith. Well-intended people brusquely warned these early disciples that their efforts to commend the Gospel to pagan audiences could accomplish nothing positive and would undoubtedly subvert principles of social order essential to the happiness of these venerable cultures – those of the Romans, the Greeks, the Syrians, the Persians, et al.
The confrontation by the Apostles of the beliefs and values of the Roman world is described at several places in the New Testament Book of Acts of the Apostles (especially, chap[ers 7 and 14) and in the Letters of Paul (conspicuously in his Epistle to the Romans.) As he presents the challenge of the new faith to the people of Lystra (Acts 14:17f), the Apostle Paul is fully aware of the gulf that he is opening up between his new way and the old, settled way of thinking and behaving; but he brazenly offers a superior set of philosophical assumptions to replace the old ones: “Turn from these useless things, “ he says, “to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” The old thinking was based on false assumptions about the character of the Living God. Still, he insists, there had always been premises inherent in those assumptions adequate for rejection of the pagan gods and for rejection of the assumptions about life and behaviour that were imbedded in all superstition. For “God did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” In his Letter to the Romans he dots the i’s and crosses the t’s:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:18-21.)
In short: no matter who you are, no matter what may be the “culture” that you have inherited, to avert your eyes from the evident moral foundation of all life is inexcusable.
“Natural Law and Common Principles”
Paul’s kind of thinking – its technical name is the Argument from Natural Theology” — is gone without a trace from all Western places of learning; and it has been largely abandoned in schools where our priests and pastors learn their theology. The reason for its exclusion from debate today has nothing to do with its philosophical merits and everything to do with the political campaign against the European legacy.
At the same time, Paul’s argument about Natural Reason is still the bedrock of Roman Catholic teaching. In several recent and authoritative declarations on this matter, the Roman church teaches that Paul’s insights in Romans into the working of Reason were not at all original with him; indeed, the scriptural context suggests that Paul expected Jewish hearers to recognize in his words a distillation of a line of reflection scattered throughout the “Wisdom” books of the Old Testament period, both canonical and non-canonical. For example: in the deuteron-canonical Book of Wisdom שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים (in the words of Pope John Paul II) God “reveals himself in nature … the structure of the world and the activity of the elements … the cycles of the years and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts.” Pope John Paul II taught “That God would not have been able to reveal Himself to the human race if it were not naturally capable of knowing something true about God… In the diversity of cultures the natural law remains as a rule that binds men among themselves and imposes on them, beyond the inevitability of differences, common principles.” (Pope John Paul II, “One Can Know God by the Natural Light of Human Reason,” A General Audience, March 20, 1985; Encyclical Letter Fides Et Ratio,” September 1998.)
Muhammad’s Willful Disdain for Natural Law
It is because of Natural Law that decent people are equipped to see the fundamental character of the choice that is presented by contrast between the behaviour of Jesus of Nazareth and thee behaviour of Muhammad, as each of these is portrayed in the sacred literature of Christianity and Islam respectively. The issue can be easily summarized:
Which of the two had eleven wives? Which one married a nine-year-old girl? Which one struck off the heads of captives “as they were brought to him batches?” (William Kilpatrick, Christianity Islam and Atheism ((Ignatius Press, 2000), page 142-143, quoting Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad.)
We cannot triangulate between Muhammad’s morality and that commended by Judaeo-Christian Scripture. Ringing in the ears of every serious Muslim, today as on day one, is Muhammad’s injunction: “Allah, may he be exalted says, ‘When you encounter those [infidels] who deny [Islam] then strike [their] necks.’ ” (Qur’an 47:4.) We cannot pretend that behaviour of this kind can be understand as following from “cultural difference.” It follows from a fundamentally inhuman and irrational reckoning of what is right and what is wrong.
The instinct of decent people everywhere has always been to recoil from the behaviour that followed from the insights that Allah gave to Muhammad. I use the word “decent” advisedly, as a short form for what Immanuel Kant called “the moral law within.”
During the heroic early years of Muslim conquest, most of the places of Western learning came under the regime of the earliest Muslim empires (Umayyad, Abbasid, et cetera.) Among other marketable loot acquired during these years of bloody empire-building were many world-renowned schools of European learning. In those formative years, Muslim conquerors discovered great practical benefit to themselves, and of course to the prestige of Islam, by subjecting these schools and the scholars resident in them to their purposes. Those that converted became luminaries of Islamic scholarship; those who did not were keep alive and in good health as propagators of new schools of wisdom that allegedly incorporated the insights of western philosophy alongside those that derive from the inspired words of the Qur’an. Out of this exercise came several schools of Islamicized “Natural Law” – the most influential being that of Averroes (11-26—1198.) But in the long haul, these efforts to marry Aristotle with the Qur’an failed. It was, and it is, a matter of oil-and-water.
All around us today shallow thinkers get rich and famous vilifying Western traditions and Western history while glorifying the Islamic tradition for its “toleration” and its pretended openness to western sources in the Aristotelian tradition. Where Islam thrives today it is the authentic brand; it is Islam as Muhammad taught it, without any concession to Natural Law. Not a trace of the spirit that underwrote the works of Averroes survives where Islam thrives today. This is simply because the premises of Islam and the premises of natural reason cannot abide each other.